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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Caring for our elderly is a privilege – treat them well

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multigenerational living - The catholic weekly - the elderly

I have had a lot of experience with the aged care system in Australia. I have nursed two parents through their last years, in and out of hospitals, and working with paid carers in their home.

My sister has also worked in aged care at every level, including direct care, for over a decade. She’s assisted dozens of older adults into that system and helped them once they were in it.

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I can tell you now that both of us would really, really prefer not to have anything to do with the current system as we age ourselves. The Royal Commission on aged care quality and safety (2018-2021) wasn’t exaggerating in any of its reports.

I don’t doubt that there are good people working in some aged care facilities, and some facilities are trying harder than others. But there’s also a lot of abuse and neglect out there.

There’s more and more of us ageing, and fewer and fewer people willing and able to take care of us. What’s the solution?

We’ve always had one, and it’s called a “family”. This is where most aged care has happened throughout most of history.

It got hijacked by modern medicine’s desire to keep everyone alive as long as possible, regardless of their quality of life. What with that and the modern need for two incomes to buy a home, aged care got outsourced.

Caring for an aged person in their own home is usually the safest and best place for them. They know where everything is, and they have a bit more control over their daily life.

multigenerational living - The catholic weekly - the elderly

Some younger families in Australia are embracing what’s now called ‘multigenerational living’. Again, some of you will recognise this as what we used to call the ‘extended family’.

You have at least three generations living in or on the same property. This can be with a granny flat for the retired grandparents, and a family home for the couple and children.

Or it can be one multistorey home with different floors for the different families. Or one very large family home with enough bedrooms.

Right now, it’s most common among families who have come here from overseas, who are used to living in extended families in their cultures of origin. But Australians who are more used to nuclear family living are starting to add to the numbers.

They’re finding that the sacrifices are worth the benefits. Retired parents are on hand for childcare, for example, which means that the family’s income can stabilise.

Ironically, sometimes the mere fact of not having to pay for childcare anymore can help one parent to change from full-time to part-time work, so they’ll also be home more often.

Catholic families are also taking up this challenge, especially the new breed of younger Catholic newlyweds who are more traditional in their outlook.

They like the idea of extended family living because it keeps family connections alive and provides much-needed support as they have their own young families.

It can also help them to get into the property market more easily and stay there on a single income with more children. Sharing a family home also means that they can live closer to better amenities, or near parishes where they’re already involved.

This type of family living can not only help reduce the burden of childcare costs, but also aged care costs. Older people who live with their families are better protected from loneliness and isolation—and the sickness and disability that goes with it.

It’s often hard to live together. It’s been hard since the Garden of Eden. That’s not going to change any time soon.

But I can tell you that multigenerational living teaches the next generation about ageing, care, and the realities of sickness and human frailty better than any carefully curated high school module.

It also teaches everyone about selfishness, sharing, making sacrifices, and how to really love another person, even on their bad days.

It can also teach young people about dying in a way that’s removed from a sterile and frightening technological world, and more connected to a natural end of life.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to die at home in comfort and dignity if you have family willing and able to care for you. Currently only around 15 per cent of all Australians do this, but it would be great to see that number increase.

These are valuable life lessons for children to learn now. Otherwise there really won’t be anyone caring for their parents—or anyone else—as they age.

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